Thursday, March 11, 2010

Laundering Literature

Bowdlerization – A form of censorship named after Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), a prison reformer trained as a physician and avid chess player who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare in 1807. Words, themes and even characters which Bowdler deemed inappropriate were removed entirely, however he claimed proudly not to have added anything! After the relative success of “The Family Shakespeare” Bowdler set about a similar task, this time with Edward Gibbon’s monumental Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which his sister published posthumously. Though perhaps not as preposterous as an alteration of Shakespeare, the attempt to make Gibbon less “racy” was met with much less success and even well deserved ridicule. To the idea of liberal learning perhaps only outright censorship could be more antithetical than this regurgitated version of primary sources. The desire to sanitize literature is the bright side of the more evil rewriting of history.